The fact that Zeitoun owns a construction company takes on symbolic resonance in the book. As he attempts to help those stranded in New Orleans after Katrina, his efforts become another kind of rebuilding. Throughout the ordeal, he trusts that something good will come out of both his efforts and those of others—efforts that counter the corruption of the authorities. Zeitoun’s Muslim faith is crucial to his perseverance, as he puts his trust in God even after being unfairly imprisoned. But his stubbornness is also an essential part of his personality, and we learn early on that Kathy finds this quality alternately endearing and infuriating. Stubbornness turns out to be a necessary personality trait, however, and one that equips Zeitoun with the grit needed to carry on when he faces various difficulties throughout the book.
Zeitoun also must persevere through a number of events that threaten to strip him of his inherent human dignity. He is subjected to invasive bodily scrutiny by the police, and must deal with prejudice and discrimination because of his Muslim faith. The very nature of Hurricane Katrina subjects others to indignities as well, and Zeitoun feels ashamed for an old woman who feels she has lost her dignity while desperately trying to stay afloat and alive outside her home. While nature threatens to remove human dignity, Zeitoun clings to the belief that people can restore this dignity by helping each other.
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity ThemeTracker
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Quotes in Zeitoun
His frustration with some Americans was like that of a disappointed parent. He was so content in this country, so impressed with and loving of its opportunities, but then why, sometimes, did Americans fall short of their best selves?
She knew that in Islam she had found calm. The doubt sewn into the faith gave her room to think, to question. The answers the Qur’an provided gave her a way forward.
But there was the canoe. He saw it, floating above the yard, tethered to the house. Amid the devastation of the city, standing on the roof of his drowned home, Zeitoun felt something like inspiration. He imagined floating, alone, through the streets of his city. In a way, this was a new world, uncharted. He could be an explorer. He could see things first.
Had they been in a fan boat, the noise overwhelming, they would have heard nothing. They would have passed by, and the woman likely would not have survived another night. It was the very nature of this small, silent craft that allowed them to hear the quietest cries. The canoe was good, the silence was crucial.
Mohammed’s accomplishments implied—proved, really—that the Zeitouns were extraordinary. It was incumbent, thereafter, on each and every child to live up to that legacy.
But Zeitoun felt again that perhaps this was his calling, that God had waited to put him here and now to test him in this way. And so he hoped, as silly as it seemed, that his siblings might see him like this, on the water, a sailor again, being useful, serving God.
She had married a bullheaded man, a sometimes ridiculously stubborn man. He could be exasperating in his sense of destiny. […] But then again, she thought, it gave their marriage a certain epic scope.
He had risked too much in the hopes that he might do something to match the deeds of his brother Mohammed. No, it had never been a conscious part of his motivation—he had done what he could in the drowned city because he was there, it needed to be done, and he could do it. But somewhere in his gut, was there not some hope that he, too, could bring pride to the family, as Mohammed had so many years ago? […] And was this imprisonment God’s way of curbing his pride, tempering his vainglorious dreams?
Kathy fell apart. She wailed and screamed. Somehow this, knowing that her husband was so close but that these layers of bureaucracy and incompetence were keeping her from him—it was too much. She cried out of frustration and rage. She felt like she was watching a baby drown, unable to do anything to save it.
As he drives through the city during the day and dreams of it at night, his mind vaults into glorious reveries—he envisions this city and this country not just as it was, but better, far better. It can be.